The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

May 24, 2013

Moore, Moore, Moore

Waco, Flint, Woodward, Blackwell, Udall, Xenia, Topeka, Andover, Jerrell, Greensburg, Joplin and Moore, Moore, Moore.

With emotions still raw and sights and sounds firmly fixed in our collective minds, we are reminded of the absolute fury — and our own helplessness — when nature takes over.

“Unless you are underground, you will not survive.”

Those chilling words have been heard more and more frequently these days, as the science of tornado understanding and warning continually refines and gets better.

Sometimes, warnings and hope and prayer are not enough.

At times, when you are in the path of the most violent force on Earth, you are not in control. None of us are. And, you will not survive.

This column begins with some of the most violent, most tragic, deadliest tornadoes Americans have had to endure since people really knew what tornadoes were.

And I didn’t even mention history’s famous Tri-State tornado. On March 18, 1925, a massive wedge tornado some said was a giant cloud that just sat down on the earth and churned everything in its path, struck America’s heartland.

On a continuous 219-mile track, the tornado killed 695 people, crossing from southeast Missouri, through southern Illinois into southwest Indiana.

It was amongst the other preceding F-5/EF-5 tornadoes from U.S. history that left marks on our psyche and scars on the land.

Oklahomans, Kansans and Texans are the most battle-tested tornado veterans on the face of the earth. We get them year in and year out, spring to spring, all packed into the months between March and June.

Oh, we get tornadoes in all months of the year, but it is the March-to-June time when heat and humidity, fronts, drylines and upper-air winds mesh over us and spawn the planet’s deadliest winds.

I vividly remember growing up in mid-1950s Waukomis, when we were lashed by tornadoes and severe storms every spring.

I remember sitting in the family car with my sister, in front of the Methodist Church while my mom ran an errand inside. It was still, oppressively hot and humid that cloudy day, and a large chunk of ice hit the ground next to the car. I looked around for the kid who threw it, yet saw no one. Within seconds, the car was being pounded by hailstones the size of hens eggs and the noise was deafening. It was my first taste of Oklahoma’s severe weather.

I remember the air getting deathly still, the humidity so thick it was difficult to breath, when tornadic storms would move over and around and through north-central Oklahoma.

I remember the terrible night in May 1955 when Blackwell blew away, as my parents had termed it at the time.

That storm that spawned an F-5 tornado had moved directly over Waukomis on its way northeast. Not long after, we had a tornado cellar built in our back yard, with its right-angle turn down the concrete stairs and large wooden bunk beds for my sister and me, and any neighbors who needed to seek shelter during storms.

I remember one week in the mid-1950s, when we literally spent every night in the cellar, as Garfield County and Oklahoma was pounded by severe and tornadic storms.

That memory has never abated. It’s probably why I was a storm spotter more than 30 years in my hometown — it made that much of an impression.

We read about the famous Woodward tornado of April 1947, a deadly F-5 tornado that traveled 220 miles from White Deer, Texas, across northwest Oklahoma to just southwest of Wichita, Kan., killing 181 people. It would have rivaled the Tri-State tornado had it not hit in some of the least-populated portions of those three states.

And now — again — we witness Moore, Oklahoma: 10 children and 24 total dead, with mile upon mile of utter devastation.

We see the elementary schools of Briarwood and Plaza Towers absolutely reduced to rubble, wondering how anyone could survive. Seven little kids didn’t.

We hear stories of teachers throwing their bodies over students huddled in halls and bathrooms and closets.

We see video of Briarwood first-grade teacher Suzanne Haley with a metal table leg protruding through the back of her lower leg.

We see a bloody-faced and bruised teacher clutching a little girl’s hand.

We see more than 12,000 structures reduced to piles of wood and brick, and rescuers everywhere within minutes. And we marvel at all the heroism. But, this is what everyday Oklahomans do.

You may not agree with me, you may not like what I say and that’s OK. But it absolutely needs to be said. We don’t pay our teachers nearly enough, or appreciate them as we should, when they are the real angels watching over our kids every school day — and when horrific storms come calling.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking

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